In Week 1, the Carolina Panthers picked up a road win without star quarterback Cam Newton. In Week 2 Newton returned, but the Panthers sat top defensive end Greg Hardy, after mounting pressure and controversy surrounding his conviction for domestic violence earlier this year.
Clearly the Panthers have shown some resilience early in the season, and are now eyeing their first 3-0 start since the 2003 season, when they went all the way to Super Bowl.
With Hardy removed from the active roster until his domestic violence case concludes, Carolina will play host to a 1-1 Pittsburgh Steelers team coming off a debilitating and worrisome Week 2 loss to rival Baltimore.
A rib injury kept Newton out of Carolina’s opener, but he looked to be in midseason form, going 22-for-34 for 281 yards and a touchdown. Newton’s health will continue be an issue, as he took four sacks and was hit another seven times.
Still the Panthers prevailed with a resounding 24-7 victory over Detroit, largely behind their defense, which forced three turnovers and kept Lions top receiver Calvin Johnson out of the end zone.
What’s a little worrisome for Carolina was their inability to create any sort of running game. Typically the Panthers, and Newton, thrive on the ground. With running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart in tow, the Panthers have ranked no lower than No. 11 in the league in rushing and as high as No. 3 since Newton became the starter his rookie season in 2011.
Carolina could also be very thin at running back in Week 3, with both William and reserve Fozzy Whitaker so far unable to practice this week due to thigh injuries. However even with such limited options in the backfield and the Panthers looking to keep Newton out of harm’s way, their ground game could be effective against a Steeler defense ranked No. 30 in the league against the run.
Pittsburgh is giving up 174 rushing yards per game, and squandered several opportunities to climb back into the 26-6 loss to rival Baltimore last week. The Steelers committed nine penalties for a loss of 75 yards and coughed up three turnovers, including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s second interception of the season. It was a far cry from an offense that put up 30 points in the opening week against a talented Cleveland defense.
Roethlisberger went 22-for-37 for 217 yards, throwing his pick on Pittsburgh’s last possession. Even with running back Le’Veon Bell playing well, the Steelers were forced to abandon the run. Bell totaled 11 attempts for 59 yards, and caught another five balls for 48 yards. Now in his second season out of Michigan State, Bell’s quickly emerging as one of the more versatile running backs in the league with 304 yards from scrimmage.
Receiver Antonio Brown was also sharp, totaling seven catches for 90 yards, but couldn’t reach the end zone. Brown’s now third in the league behind Johnson and Green Bay’s Jordy Nelson in receiver with 206 yards.
Start Time: Sunday, 8:30 p.m. EST
TV Channel: NBC
Betting Odds: Carolina -3
Over/Under: 42 points
Predicted Score: Carolina 20, Pittsburgh 17